By Christine Schrum
If you’ve been in the framing industry for some time, you’ve no doubt heard of or attended DECOR Expo Atlanta. A moulding-world mainstay for decades, the annual event was legendary for its exhibitions, education, special events and, of course, the mingling and connecting with peers. Two years ago, Redwood Media Group CEO Eric Smith acquired DECOR Expo Atlanta and has been quietly planning a big relaunch of the popular show, slated for September 9 through 11, 2015, at Atlanta’s Marriott Hotel. DECOR interviewed Smith about the show’s future.
DECOR: Redwood Media Group has a storied history with iconic art shows, such as Artexpo New York and [SOLO], along with exciting new shows, such as SPECTRUM Miami and Art San Diego. What made you decide to get into the framing expo business?
Eric Smith: Opportunity and history. Art and framing have always gone hand in hand, and it’s a natural fit for our business. I’m also very familiar with the framing market: From 2000 to 2008, I was vice president of Summit Business Media, and I ran DECOR Expo until we sold it in 2008. At that point, it went to another company, and I didn’t really hear much about it. But in its heyday, DECOR was huge! It was a mainstay in the framing industry, and everyone, including me, had really fond memories of the show.
So naturally, when in late 2012 I received a call from a business associate who asked me if I was interested in purchasing the DECOR properties—which included Art Business News, DECOR, DECOR Expo Atlanta and DECOR Expo New York—I couldn’t resist. I really missed the show. And now that my company, Redwood Media, is in a growth phase, I see no better time. The first step was launching DECOR Expo Showcase in New York this spring, alongside Artexpo New York and [SOLO]. That was a big success. We’re looking forward to bringing the showcase back to Pier 94 next spring and then launching the all-new DECOR Expo Atlanta in the fall.
DECOR: Why do you think the original DECOR Expo Atlanta tapered off?
ES: It’s important to realize that, from 2009 to 2012, it was under entirely different ownership. I’m not actually 100 percent sure the owners even produced the show, although they owned the name. I believe that group went on to other businesses in the end. Since Redwood Media Group acquired the show, we’ve been sort of incubating ideas around it for the past year or two. We believe in the slow-but-steady approach, just like we’ve taken with all our other shows: We’ve more than doubled the size of our company in the last two years! So, what framers really need to know is that DECOR Expo Atlanta and New York are under completely new management and will give them an exemplary experience.
DECOR: Tell us about that debut of the showcase in New York. How did it go?
ES: It was great. We have a small venue that we allocated for framing exhibitors, and we had about 30 exhibitors right at the front of the hall, so they got excellent traffic. More than 22,000 people go through Artexpo New York each year, and, of those, about 4,000 are trade buyers. So, we made a really big deal about getting the trade in to see the framing products, and our exhibitors were quite happy with that.
On the last day of the show, I did an exit interview and went around shaking people’s hands. Of the 30 exhibitors, 28 said they’d return. Bear in mind: The New York event’s really more of a showcase, not an expo. The full-blown expo we’ll be doing in Atlanta is a much bigger event. We’ll have product demonstrations, extensive education, a larger floor plan, and more exhibitors. At the showcase, it’s more of an add-on to Artexpo, and we’re really just showcasing new products. That said, it could grow into a full-blown show someday. If we could double the size next year, we think that would be great.
DECOR: You launched DECOR at the showcase this spring in New York. What’s your vision for the publication?
ES: Well, as I mentioned earlier, Redwood Media Group acquired DECOR, DECOR Expo, and Art Business News all together in late 2012. Our first initiative was to get Art Business News back in the market because it fits so well with the four art shows we’re already producing: Artexpo New York, [SOLO], SPECTRUM Miami and Art San Diego. Once we got that back into publication, we added a decor/framing component to it via our DECOR section, which readers seem to be enjoying.
We have excellent resources and writers within the framing industry—our show director and publisher Michael Pacitti, “the Guerrilla Framer” Paul Cascio, Tara Crichton; the list goes on and on. And, of course, we’re always on the lookout for more writers and more intriguing content, and we encourage interested parties to contact us. To date, we’ve been pleased to feature some really exciting profiles on industry players, like Roma Moulding and Urban Ashes. It’s an industry that keeps reinventing itself, and it’s exciting to play a part in documenting that.
Over the last 90 days, we’ve attracted over 300 subscribers to the new DECOR. If that continues, we’ll have 1,400 to 1,500 brand-new subscribers to the magazine in the next year to add to our list of 4,000. This all circles back to the shows: One reason exhibitors exhibit at shows is to meet new customers and peers, so we’re going to invite all of our subscribers to the expos. We want to make it easy for framers throughout the continent to network and connect.
DECOR: What new initiatives do you have for the new DECOR Expo Atlanta?
ES: For starters, we’ve got an all-new venue. We’re not going back to the Georgia World Congress Center, where the show was usually held. We’ve decided to take a three-year growth approach, building year upon year, and hold it at the Marriott in downtown Atlanta. It creates a beehive of buying and networking. Everybody will stay in the hotel, eat in the hotel, drink at the bars and enjoy an excellent, three-day framing expo in the ballroom.
We’re also planning a really compelling front-of-the-shop educational series, which will be free for all attendees. We’re going to have cutting-edge product demonstrations on the show floor. And we are going to revive our extremely popular DECOR Expo Top 100 Art and Framing Retailer Program. We’re going to throw a big party during the show and honor these hardworking framers and also give them exposure in DECOR magazine. There will be other surprises mixed in to make things exciting, interesting and fun for participants. It’s going to be a very exciting event, and we hope framers from across North America will join us.
DECOR: What do you hope exhibitors and attendees will take away from these two new framing expos?
ES: For attendees, seeing new products, sharpening their skills … and, hopefully, they’ll take home a Top 100 Retailer Award. For the exhibitors, they’ll meet lots of attendees they don’t see at the West Coast show. There are a lot of framers in the South and Southeast—and, for that matter, the Northeast—we’ve made contacts with over the past year, and everyone has been telling us they miss DECOR Expo Atlanta.
As art-industry veterans, we try to stay on the forefront of all the latest advancements in the world of artists, galleries and frame shops, and we have a lot to offer framers in that regard. We can’t wait to welcome everyone back to DECOR Expo Atlanta next fall.
Christine Schrum is editor-in-chief of DECOR magazine. She has extensive experience in the fine-art industry, particularly in art-show marketing and production, social media, blogging and magazine writing. She is currently director of content and social media for Redwood Media Group, purveyor of fine-art shows and publications.